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Behind the scenes

The film industry has evolved and,like in any other career,the role of women isn’t limited to the glamorous.

Written by EXPRESS FEATURES SERVICE | Published: February 16, 2009 3:35 am

Gender bias in the Hindi film industry seems passé as women technicians call the shots

The film industry has evolved and,like in any other career,the role of women isn’t limited to the glamorous. A film set,chaotic with action,with women behind sound consoles,cameras and editing desk,screaming orders to the entire crew doesn’t make for an unusual sight. The credits roll at the end of a film today lists ample number of woman technicians. Speak to them and most will say that their journey in the industry hasn’t been one bit tumultuous.

Sound designer Amala Popuri came to Mumbai four years ago after a course in sound recording and sound engineering from FTII,Pune. She started with assignments for her alma mater and later took up freelance jobs. Popuri’s profile today includes recent blockbuster Ghajini,Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya and Rajat Kapoor’s Mixed Doubles,among other documentary and feature films.

“I have had my set of problems at work,like anyone would in a regular nine-to-five job. And I can’t blame it on a gender bias. My transition from FTII to the industry has been rather smooth,” says the 34-year-old,who has worked with the Oscar nominee and BAFTA winner Resul Pookutty on Amu.

Popuri’s work as a sound designer requires her to envisage the role sound will play in the film and to oversee everything on the set on that front. “You may not be aware of Namita Naik who did sound recording for 1942: A Love Story or Fauzia Fatima,but they are famous technicians who have been around for ages.”

However,Hetal Dedhia,can claim to have penetrated into what has been a male-dominated arena until now. The 23-year-old is India’s only woman gaffer. But Dedhia’s choice of career is in her genes; the petite girl is the daughter of the illustrious lighting designer Moolchand Dedhia.

Her job often involves scaling the length and breadth of the set with lights and equipment. While much of her love can be attributed to “having grown up watching dad at the workshop,servicing equipment”,she has a funny story to tell.

“I used to hate studying and gave it up after Standard 12. I was confident and knew I could make it in this male-dominated field.” However,Dedhia,who has worked on Bluffmaster and Luck By Chance,confirms that her strict father makes sure she doesn’t work with him and leverage upon his name.

For production designer Meenal Agarwal,her current profile is merely an extension of her decade-long career as a photographer. “My job requires me to decide the look of the film,which covers every aspect of the project,including costumes,art and colour palette. It takes forward the basics of photography.”

The 37-year-old’s experience in the industry,on the other hand,has been sour only because traditional filmmakers still can’t differentiate between an art director and a production designer. “It’s a new field so the newer generation of filmmakers sees the point,” says Agarwal,who has worked on Mixed Doubles and Bheja Fry.

Trainee cinematographer Anuradha Agarwal in fact feels that the corporate world has more gender issues than the film industry does. “I have worked with an ad and corporate filmmaking agency and the corporate head honchos have on occasions passed remarks,doubting our capabilities with the camera. Whereas in the film industry,even as a trainee my crew looks at me with confidence.”

Much of the change in the scenario,feels Popuri,is a result of increased exposure to films and the many courses in technical aspects of filmmaking being offered. “As a youngster,I was interested in the way sound changed the quality of a movie. But as I grew up,I realised there was no lack of avenues. And though I do wish to make a movie some day,I’m happy mixing sound for now.”

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